The Magic of Depth: Reflections on Two Weeks of Multipotentialite Agency

I know, I know—I said I’d set up a routine, and then, just as it may have seemed I was about to start posting a bunch, I disappeared from the face of the blogosphere.

Well, here’s what was up: finding myself with forty more hours per week turned out to be something like rolling up the shades and looking directly at the Sun.  Suddenly perceiving myself to have all the time in the world to achieve all my goals, I was momentarily blinded by the intense light of near-total intellectual freedom.

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So I’ve spent more than I hoped of the last two weeks flailing as my dilated intellectual pupils worked to adjust to the brightness.  I picked things up and put them down, trying to find the right project out of all the enticing things I cared about.

Happily, my eyes have finally begun to adjust.  It’s been a time of introspection (which isn’t great for producing content about things other than my own life, but hey, I guess this was a unique time worth recording and sharing), and I’ve recognized many things:

  • It’s okay to not clean everything up!  Previously, I had a “good” habit of doing some chores before I started working.  Now, however, the good, responsible course of action is to let the bed be unmade and ignore the half-drunk glasses of water sitting about while I work on other things.  “Good” habits can become distractions or even procrastination.

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  • I have reconfirmed that I am definitely a tea person, not a coffee person.  I had one cup of hazelnut coffee on Monday at 9:30 and lost a whole afternoon to caffeine jitteriness that I think caused my heart to race when I exercised.  Actually, I’m trying to stay away from caffeine entirely.  Strong motivation is more effective!  (Though admittedly not always at hand.)
  • Writing really works better for me first thing in the morning.  I started today at 7:15, after false starts at reading and meditation.  (I have too many ideas in the morning to meditate!)  Yesterday I went swimming early in the day and then wrote; I had tons of ideas while I was swimming, but the actual writing (starting around 11) went poorly.  Reading before writing has historically prompted the ten o’clock magic, but I need to be reading the right thing.
  • Having a desk set up ergonomically is still important even if you can get up an take a walk in the middle of the day.  But looking for ergonomic kneeling chairs can wait until after you finish your deep thinking; for the time being, just move the laptop to a different table.
  • I’ll never ever ever ever be caught up with email ever, so maybe I can just learn to accept that.
  • Calliope thinks I’m staying home so I can take her for walks in the hallway.  I’m struggling with whether to respond to the meows or ignore them.
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Alyosha in the background, and Calliope in the foreground.  She wants me to hurry up and polish this so we can go promenade in the hallway.

And so on and so forth.  That’s much of what I’ve been working out over the past two weeks.  But amidst all the practical routine setting, I’ve internalized two larger truths: things I understood intellectually before, but have now grasped more deeply through living them.

First, forty hours as week may give me all the time in the world, but as it turns out, all the time in the world is still not enough to do all the projects in my mind.  And definitely not all at once!  This realization feels deeply profound to me but translates poorly into a blog entry, because it sounds so obvious.  Yes, I would have told you that I understood this before, as I’m sure you already do.  But living it drives that understanding deeper.

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What use might this revelation be to everyone but me and the likes of Tama Kieves (the power lawyer who pulled the same quit-my-day-job-to-write stunt that I did)?  Truly, I can’t say; it’s up to you to decide that.  But here on the other side, I can tell you fellow multipotentialites that there really is only so much time, even if you have virtually all of it to pursue your project(s).

Second, big projects take a lot of time.  Yes, I know, another “duh!” moment that only becomes profound when you live it.  But I’ve realized that small projects are nice ways to play with ideas and make connections and revelations, so I have to have at least a few complementary ones to thrive, but the real reason I am going full-time with this endeavor is so that I can do the big things—the projects that require me to go deep.  This, after all, is presumably what knowledge workers are ideally supposed to do at their nine-to-fives anyway: go deep into their area of expertise.  And if it’s the right calling for them, then it probably works pretty well.

The habits I’d formed as someone who only does projects on weekend mornings (not much of value ever came from evening hours) meant I’d been thinking small.  I never had time for big projects before, so I settled for lots of little ones.  I had big ideas, but I rarely even tried to implement them, knowing the constraints on my existence.

So here’s the most striking thing that’s happened to me: given space and control, I find my priorities becoming clear to me.  I was able to say, “Okay, I’m going to work on this long term demanding project now.  This project is the right one for right now, so I am at peace with putting those others aside.”

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Don’t misunderstand me: I’m still interested in all the things.  And I’ve always been vaguely aware that I would fail unless I prioritized.  The magic is that now that I’m answerable to no one but myself, this becomes truly salient.  I suspect that it’s because I’m working to my goal, so there’s no feeling that externally imposed goals must take priority over all of mine, even as I cling to all of them because I lack the mental space to even begin to sort them out and choose among them.  I reiterate what I said back in April: having real agency gives your executive function a chance to power up.  (Indeed, it has to strengthen, or else you’ll fail.)

The newfound space for depth has been disorienting because it’s transformative.  I realize that I can only do one big project at a time, with carefully selected complementary projects to promote insight and avoid ruts.  I want to dive deep into something and have a real, valuable product to show for it: something I couldn’t have done through a series of Saturday and Sunday mornings.

So my mind’s eye adjusted to the brightness, the things I really wanted to dive deeply into not only became clear, but lined themselves up—first this, and then later I’ll give that other interest its own dive.  Essentially, this path is that of what multipotentialite coach Barbara Sher calls the serial specialist.  It’s no surprise that in her book Refuse to Choose she lists “writer” as one of the top careers for such a person.

On that note, I’ve begun to bore myself with this introspection.  Time to start the day’s work on my priority projects!  And while you won’t see the results of those here anytime soon, those complementary small ones are likely to start bubbling up to the surface before long.

(Just as soon as I take Calliope for her walk, that is.)

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Image credits: Kanenori, calimiel, congerdesign, sasint, skeeze, and 12019 from Pixabay, and a cat photo that I took myself.

9 thoughts on “The Magic of Depth: Reflections on Two Weeks of Multipotentialite Agency

    1. Paula, your interest is great encouragement for me! Actually, the biggest project is one that I will be talking about here eventually, unless it falls through (it could still fall through)…but it has to do with rainforest minded issues, so I was thinking of reaching out to see if you had any thoughts on it. I’ll send you a private note about it! (Though maybe not until tomorrow.)

      (As for others reading this who might be curious regarding this subject, you are welcome to ask, too. :))

      The other projects are related to channeling my interest in DSA into something more concrete and constructive — namely, of course, written projects. I have some people to interview and places that might be willing to publish me, if I come up with something good!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Brava! BTW, for me, cleaning and organizing my writing environment is part of the ritual that helps me write. I am very sensitive to my physical environment when I write, especially at the start of a project. Dirt, disorder, darkness all distract my mind. Clean surfaces and light means less for my mind to get tangled in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michele! And I’m actually the same way about my writing space. I want the whole apartment to be clean, honestly (it’s not just habit that makes me clean, but authentic desire for order), but I’ve made my peace with the bed in the other room being unmade, or the dishes just being piled in the sink until midday.

      But the desk? That does need to be in order before I start writing. Fortunately, it’s a small area. 🙂

      (Today after I finished a writing session, and while listening to a DSA webinar, I polished all my glass and wood tables with Pledge and Windex.)

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  2. I tried one of those kneeling chairs. You’re locked in one position so you can’t bounce your knee or spin around like you can in an office chair. For someone with psychomotor OEs it’s a nightmare. I think you should write in the most comfortable place in your house because if you don’t, that more comfortable place will always be calling to you. My preference is to lay on the settee with a bed table set about a foot above with a laptop on it and a separate short keyboard (no number pad) on my lap. *stretches luxuriously*

    Dorothea Brand’s Becoming a Writer suggests writing first thing in the morning, immediately after waking to make the most of the creativity that comes from still being half asleep and close to your dreams. A lot of people swear by writing in the morning but I prefer hard physical work in the morning, followed by dinner, a bath, then settling down to intellectual work in the afternoon. Have you read John T Reed’s book on writing and self-publishing https://johntreed.com/collections/self-publishing? It certainly demystifies the process.

    Which Georgian Bolshevik is Alyosha named after? The one executed by the SRs or the one executed by Stalin? 😉

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    1. In my case, I’ve actually tried one of the kneeling chairs before — it was our main computer chair in the 1990s. I spent many hours sitting on it writing stories in WordPerfect 5.0 and playing Lemmings and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. So I decided to give it a go! They’re supposed to be very good for posture, and I have terrible posture to the point that I have neck and back pain issues. (Admittedly, another problem related to your nevertheless good suggestion is that we don’t really have a particularly comfortable place in our apartment….)

      Fortunately, when I get into flow with writing, psychomotor OE takes a hint and settles down for a bit. I guess OE is like a puzzle for each overexcitable person — everyone has a similar type of puzzle, but each one has a different solution. It still helps to compare notes!

      And the same is true in terms of what works for each writer. I’d read some writers talking about their routines before, and some of them made me think, “Hmm, yes, I’m like that too!” while others I couldn’t relate to at all. Once again, we all must solve our individual puzzles.

      As for John T. Reed, thanks for that link! Right now I’m mainly focusing on content generation and trying not to jump ahead to publishing. There are some things I’ll probably want to self-publish (or at least am resigned to self publishing and willing to do the work), while for other things, I’ll eventually need to query agents, but that’s a long way off yet.

      As for Alyosha…he’s named after Alyosha Karamazov. 🙂 I recognize that may be strike some socialists as an odd choice, as he can be said to be conservative (Dostoevskiy vs. Chernyshevskiy and all), but Alyosha from the Brothers Karamazov is still a very powerful character and reminds me of hope and the possibility of human decency, as well as the challenges of believing in it. This is well represented by my cat Alyosha spending a lot of time hiding under the couch.

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  3. “We don’t have a particularly comfortable place in our apartment” – this may be one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard. A home without comfort is like a Circle of Hell for the Slothful, and probably worse than the original sensory deprivation tank-like environment of floating under the River Styx. An alternative or addition to a chair that forces you into perfect posture may be to get some really comfy furniture that lets you properly relax and turn to squish.

    I haven’t read either of those writers in full, but from All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

    Dostoyevsky: spend years psyching yourself up to bump into an officer on the Nevsky.

    Chernyshevsky: answer the question ‘what is to be done’ by gently placing a dignitary in the gutter.

    Talking about animal names, back when we kept chickens we had one hen that was freakishly intelligent, a rebel and an escape artist, called Makhno.

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    1. It would be nice to have a more comfy chair, but since I only came to this conclusion that our furniture is not comfy after I started having posture-related pain, I’m hopeful that this will cause me to be more or less satisfied once again!

      (Though I did think that there’s a chair at my parents’ house that’s even more comfy, but then we come up against the problem of living in 800 square feet. We have a loveseat and a Western futon, not to be confused with a proper Japanese futon which is something else entirely! And given our book setup, fitting a big comfy chair in here would be a challenge. We decided that books > comfort.)

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    2. And I’m sitting in the kneeling chair now! I like it. I can tell it’s giving my back a workout, though. This makes me get up and take breaks, so that’s probably also good.

      For long spans of research, I move to the dining table so I can spread source material all over. This is what I’ve been doing most mornings this week.

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